Nino’s Italian Restaurant (***)

Posted on January 1st, 2004 in Houston,Restaurant Reviews by mynagirl

Nino’s Restaurant

2817 West Dallas

Houston, Tx 77019

713 522 5120

 

This year we decided to do the big evening out for New Year’s. Our daughter would be up in Indiana (instead of down here in Houston with us) and so we would be left to our own devices for evening entertainment if we so chose. Lucky for us, our favorite live band was playing at our favorite club and we decided to make a whole evening of it.

Of course, the perfect start to that type of evening has to be the just-right spot to eat. In a place like Houston, there are so many great spots to choose from, even when I limited myself to the spots near the house. I was looking for the exact right combination of ambiance, price, location, and food to fit the evening’s adventures. I knew I was going to go dressy with the outfit but I didn’t want to totally over-kill, money-wise, on dinner: it was just going to be the two of us and neither of us are big enough drinkers to make it worth it to go all-out with the wine-and-after-dinner-ports type feast.

I knew I wanted a known quantity; for a fun evening out I wasn’t interested in breaking new ground. Most important on the list was good food. Next was an intimate ambiance, not too clattery. And of course, not too much of a schlep: close to our house (in the Heights), close to downtown. One of my first thoughts was Vincent’s… we love the rotisserie chicken, it’s so close to the house, and it hit that perfect mid-price point I was looking for. When making the reservation, I switched to Vincent’s next-door brother restaurant, Nino’s, instead — similarly wonderful food (including that famous chicken), but with a more intimate atmosphere.

The New Year’s reservations process was pretty straightforward; we had to give a credit card and confirm on the day. We were also warned to get there on time or risk losing our table and that we’d only have a two-hour window for dinner. All seemed like reasonable rules, given the logistics of the holiday. The staff handled everything smoothly when we arrived: they sat us exactly on time at a great little table in the center of the downstairs floor but nestled near a plant stand so it still felt private. Everything proceeded perfectly from there; our orders were taken precisely and accurately, our drinks brought out fairly quickly, and our appetizers, entrées and desserts perfectly spaced. And the food was fabulous! I had Penne alla Vodka (pasta in a tomato cream sauce with vodka, one of my favorites) and Scott had the Pollo Pasquale (chicken stuffed with sausage and mushrooms, very tasty)!

The very precision of our food delivery, actually, was an amazing feat: going out on New Year’s Eve is pretty much like going out on prom night and Mother’s Day all rolled into one; even a well-oiled restaurant machine can get overwhelmed with large conflagrations of young couples and big family groups. Although Nino’s seemed able to handle the influx of crowd, New Year’s Eve is definitely amateur’s night out, and I think the staff at Nino’s knew that. Actually, there’s my disappointment with the evening. While mechanically it was flawless, it lacked the normal warmth and intimacy that we’ve come come to love about eating at a Mandola restaurant. When we sat down and ordered our first drinks (I started out with an espresso and a Pellegrino, Scott with a Diet Coke), I speculate that our waiter pegged us as penny pinchers in from the sticks because we didn’t order any wine or bar drinks right off the bat (I needed a little caffeine first!!). His service was robotical after that. He got our appetizer and entrée order at the same time and was one notch less communicative than abrupt the entire time, I’d say. He may have just been busy because of the holiday crowd or he may just not be that kind of smoochie-face waiter, but I did expect more of a “gracious host” type feel from the Nino’s waitstaff.

Of course we’ll go again, both to Nino’s and Vincent’s. The food’s too good, and we’ve received outstanding service at both places before. I’ll chalk up this particular service experience to a busy holiday night, and really, it’s a minor nit I’m picking with this review. Our food was still of excellent quality and came out with perfect timing. Our waiter did still attend to our drinks (perhaps a little more when Mr. Mandola was within earshot) and he wasn’t rude, just… dismissive. Next time I’ll hope for a little more of that family feel.

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